In recent weeks, human rights and environmental activists have celebrated a court ruling rejecting a massive expansion of the Vedanta Mining Company’s hazardous alumina refinery and toxic red mud pond located in India’s eastern state of Orissa.
However, peaceful protesters continue to face police violence at the site, and 47 villagers have been jailed on false charges, signaling that the saga of Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery is not yet over.
Many people think of Brazil as a land full of resources and promise. However, environmentalists face a terrifying reality. While they are only trying to preserve and protect the beauty and nature of the nation’s land, they are frequently subject to blatant threats and attacks.
Since May 24, 2011, the described menace turned not into one, but four cold-blooded killings in the northern states of Pará and Rondônia. Although the killings were anything but unannounced, the authorities shamefully failed to protect these brave citizens.
Environmental activists José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva were ambushed and shot dead at a bridge in Nova Ipixuna, Pará. According to reports from local NGOs, one of the gunmen cut off José Cláudio’s ear to keep as proof of the killing. The killings took place at a reserve where three hundred families earn their living from harvesting Brazilian nuts and cultivating tropical fruits. As a respected community leader, José Cláudio had denounced incursions into the reserve by illegal loggers and cattle ranchers. His bravery was soon met by threats and right before his death, he said he was living with the threat of “a bullet in the head at any moment”.
Amnesty International is sad to learn of the death of Felipe Arreaga, former environmental activist from Petatlán, Guerrero, in Mexico. Arreaga, founder of the Peasant Environmentalist Organization of the Sierra de Petatlán (Organización Campesina Ecologista de la Sierra de Petatlán – OCESP), died last Wednesday morning September 16th, after being hit by a mini bus while he travelled along the national highway, connecting Acapulco and Zihuatanejo.
In 2004, Amnesty International adopted Felipe Arreaga as a prisoner of conscience, issuing Urgent Actions and initiating other work on his behalf. On November 3, 2004, Felipe was detained and unjustly charged for a 1998 murder. During his detention lawyers proved that he was not responsible for the murder, and a witness admitted that he was forced to make a statement against Felipe. After 10 months, with the support of Amnesty International activists around the world, he was released and finally returned home. You can read more about Felipe and his work in this 2005 profile that appeared in Amnesty International Magazine.
Our most heartfelt condolences go out to Felipe’s wife, Celsa, and his friends and family. Felipe’s peaceful struggle to prevent excessive logging of local forests will always be remembered. Felipe Arreaga’s detention is a reminder to all of the unjust detentions occurring right now in Mexico and many other countries, and of the difference that human rights activism can make in the lives of individuals. Without the support of Amnesty and letters written by individuals, Felipe may not have been released. Thank you to all who supported Felipe Arreaga—his environmental activism, his dedication, and his strength of spirit will not be forgotten.
Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 9. That sounds like the name of a rock star or pop music group, no? Well, to me, human rights activists and environmental defenders are rock stars. And I have no doubt that Ken Saro-Wiwa would still be touring and drawing huge crowds if he were alive today.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was more of a prolific indie rocker. He was a recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, primarily for his work as president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). MOSOP grew out of the concerns of indigenous peoples in the Niger Delta – concerns that are globally echoed by many indigenous communities today – about land rights, environmental degradation, and physical abuse by security forces. If you’re not already familiar with the region, it’s important to understand that the Niger Delta is a major source of oil production.
Under the rule of General Sani Abacha, the Nigerian military tried and executed Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP leaders in 1995. The deaths of the Ogoni 9 are widely acknowledged to be the result of MOSOP’s peaceful protests against Royal/Dutch Shell. Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell) isn’t the only oil giant implicit in human rights violations in Nigeria. Concerns over human rights violations by Chevron (CVX) and subcontractors of both multinational oil companies were highlighted in Amnesty International’s 2005 Report Nigeria: Ten years on: injustice and violence haunt the oil Delta.
You won’t hear a cover band performing Ken Saro-Wiwa’s biggest hits, but his message is still on the top of the charts. Fourteen years later, Shell now finds itself at the center of a landmark lawsuit by the families of the Ogoni 9 led by EarthRights International and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Wiwa v. Shell cites the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) – one of the only pieces of legislation that exists to hold corporations accountable for their human rights abuses. More specifically, it allows non-US citizens the opportunity to file suits in U.S. courts. But wait, that’s not the amazing part. Did I mention that the ATCA was adopted in 1789? A law that’s been on the books for 200+ years has the potential to form legal precedent for future corporate accountability work.
You can be sure the significance of this case is not lost on big corporate human rights offenders like Chevron (CVX) and ExxonMobil (XOM). That is the legacy of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s voice. We keep it on shuffle or archive it in our iTunes library, but rest assured, human rights activists never forget.
- By Anna Phelan, member of Amnesty International USA’s Business & Economic Relations Group
Action for Human Rights. Hope for Humanity.